Earlier today, Abdul-Fattah el-Sisi, the former defence minister who led last summer’s coup in Egypt, announced to absolutely no-one’s surprise that he would run for president of Egypt.
I have no faith in al-Sisi. None whatsoever. The Morsi regime which he toppled was maneuvering itself into an authoritarian position in an undemocratic way, and I confess that I initially thought that maybe the military coup could change things for the better, if the military reset democracy and held elections. By now, we’ve seen that this is not the case, and we’ve seen what kind of government he would run. The political violence carried out by his administration has been horrific. During the crackdowns on legal and mostly non-violent protests in August, over a thousand people were summarily killed in massacres.
This week, 529 people were summarily sentenced to death, presumably on al-Sisi’s orders or with his okay. The trials — trial, actually, there was just one — were a farcical show, which even The Soviet Union couldn’t have bettered. The whole production lasted an hour, according to Human Rights Watch:
The March 22, 2014, trial, in which the vast majority of defendants were tried in absentia, took place in under an hour. The prosecution did not put forward evidence implicating any individual defendant, even though it had compiled significant evidence during its investigations, and the court prevented defense lawyers from presenting their case or calling witnesses, three of the defense lawyers told Human Rights Watch. A second summary session was held two days later solely to announce the verdict.
Does that sound like something that should happen under a man who wants to be elected president? A further 683 people will be tried in early April under similarly summary conditions. Over a thousand people assassinated by a court for daring to be opposed to their government. This is in addition to the 2.000 activists who have already been murdered.
(Edit: No, wait, breaking news: another 919 will be tried under similar conditions soon.)
An Egyptian official gave this amazing quote to The Associated Press: “We are in exceptional circumstances. We don’t have time to summon each and every defendant, prove their presence and confirm who are their lawyers.”
I mean, you can’t just expect us to give people fair trials. That would just take way to long, we have a country to run here!
The simple truth, which should be obvious to any impartial observer, is this: any race in which al-Sisi is a candidate will be an unfair one. Any election held in which the army and the security services and the government media backs one candidate is not a free election. If he knew anything about democracy he would resign. He will never be a democratic leader. Because he is a profoundly undemocratic man. And a mass murderer. He should be tried and locked up.
In choosing whether or not to trust this awful tyrant with the keys to the state, I suggest they follow the advice of the British philosopher John Locke. Locke knew a thing or two about tyrannical power and what the people should do about it. His views on the matter informed another great revolution: the American one.
I give below some abridged passages from the Two Treatises of Government which I stumbled across this evening. I’ll put some of my own commentary in there and bold some of the most relevant sections.
Sec. 221. There is therefore … another way whereby governments are dissolved, and that is, when the legislative, or the prince … act contrary to [the people’s] trust. First, The legislative acts against the trust reposed in them, when they endeavour to invade the property of the subject, and to make themselves, or any part of the community [like the Egyptian military, secret services or courts, say], masters, or arbitrary disposers of the lives, liberties, or fortunes of the people.
Sec. 222.… whenever the legislators endeavour to take away, and destroy the property of the people, or to reduce them to slavery under arbitrary power, they put themselves into a state of war with the people, who are thereupon absolved from any farther obedience, and are left to the common refuge, which God hath provided for all men, against force and violence.
Whensoever therefore the legislative shall transgress this fundamental rule of society; and either by ambition, fear, folly or corruption, endeavour to grasp themselves, or put into the hands of any other, an absolute power over the lives, liberties, and estates of the people; by this breach of trust they forfeit the power the people had put into their hands for quite contrary ends, and it devolves to the people, who have a right to resume their original liberty, and, by the establishment of a new legislative, (such as they shall think fit) provide for their own safety and security, which is the end for which they are in society.
What I have said here, concerning the legislative in general, holds true also concerning the supreme executor [al-Sisi], who having a double trust put in him, both to have a part in the legislative, and the supreme execution of the law, acts against both, when he goes about to set up his own arbitrary will as the law of the society. He acts also contrary to his trust, when he either employs the force, treasure, and offices of the society, to corrupt the representatives, and gain them to his purposes; or openly preengages the electors, and prescribes to their choice, such, whom he has, by sollicitations, threats, promises, or otherwise, won to his designs; and employs them to bring in such, who have promised before-hand what to vote, and what to enact.
Thus to regulate candidates and electors, and new-model the ways of election, what is it but to cut up the government by the roots, and poison the very fountain of public security? for the people having reserved to themselves the choice of their representatives, as the fence to their properties, could do it for no other end, but that they might always be freely chosen, and so chosen, freely act, and advise, as the necessity of the common-wealth, and the public good should, upon examination, and mature debate, be judged to require.
This, those who give their votes before they hear the debate, and have weighed the reasons on all sides, are not capable of doing. To prepare such an assembly as this, and endeavour to set up the declared abettors of his own will, for the true representatives of the people, and the law-makers of the society, is certainly as great a breach of trust, and as perfect a declaration of a design to subvert the government, as is possible to be met with. To which, if one shall add rewards and punishments visibly employed to the same end, and all the arts of perverted law made use of, to take off and destroy all that stand in the way of such a design, and will not comply and consent to betray the liberties of their country, it will be past doubt what is doing. What power they ought to have in the society, who thus employ it contrary to the trust went along with it in its first institution, is easy to determine; and one cannot but see, that he, who has once attempted any such thing as this, cannot any longer be trusted.
John Locke understood this in the 17th century. I hope that the Egyptian people will make sure that al-Sisi now understands it.